Socially Intelligent Communication Skills for LeadersArticle by Maynard Brusman, January 26, 2019
Essential Communication Skills for Leaders
Leaders continue to assume greater responsibilities and pressures as markets and technologies call for increasingly faster commerce, responses and results. Information overload and business volatility have become the norm, requiring nimble management and staff interconnection. Leadership success depends on a most essential professional skill: strategic communication.
Task completion and organizational achievement demand peak-level communication. A leader’s fundamental role is to be an excellent communicator and a proponent for a communication-based culture. Organizations led by great communicators are far more likely to prosper, especially when faced with onerous challenges.
Unfortunately, too many organizations are hampered by leaders who fail to grasp the power of good communication (or discount its importance). Some leaders consider information to be communication in and of itself, but it’s really just data. Communication is the ability to convey information strategically—the very core of leadership, affirms executive coach Dianna Booher in Communicate Like a Leader: Connecting Strategically to Coach, Inspire, and Get Things Done (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2017).
Leaders develop and use communication—a soft skill—to work with others, recognizing that success relies on unity and collaboration. When combined with the traditional hard skills of quantitative analysis and decision-making, communication rounds out a leader’s ability to bring people together and achieve high performance. A lack of communication causes multiple obstructions, debilitations and failures, as Booher notes:
In survey after survey, managers report that their team understands organizational goals and initiatives. Yet team members themselves say they do not. In a recent worldwide Gallup poll among 550 organizations and 2.2 million employees, only 50 percent of employees “strongly agreed” that they knew what was expected of them at work. Obviously, there’s a disconnection here.
Leaders must therefore master three essential skills to avoid these disconnects:
- Communicating deliberately
- Communicating interpersonally
- Communicating by adding value
Assuming that people are getting the information they need or can figure things out for themselves yields unpleasant surprises. Information left unmanaged does irreparable harm. Misunderstandings, confusion, misrepresentation and assumption distort information.
Without accurate and timely information, your people will end up doing the wrong things at the wrong times for the wrong reasons, notes communication expert Dean Brenner in “The True Cost of Poor Communication” (Forbes, November 2017). Good communication requires a deliberate and thorough approach, coupled with significant forethought and diligence.
Communication’s foundation is built on three components:
- Information benefits everyone only if it’s clear and concise. Ask questions and seek feedback to affirm understanding. Use language geared for your audience in a decipherable order and tempo. Be clear about expectations and requirements.
- Be specific enough to be understood, but not over-explained or expressed condescendingly. Convey challenging topics with unambiguous descriptions and explanations. Avoid using generalities on detailed subjects to prevent assumptions and misunderstandings.
- Impertinent data may be interesting, but it dilutes the mission and makes staff question your priorities. Timeliness is critical, so share information as soon as your people can benefit from it.
Also keep in mind:
- Forthright and truthful leaders convey information their people can count on, carrying weight and reliability.
- When leaders hedge or dance around a topic, people question information’s validity and their boss’s intentions.
- When people know their leaders have integrity, they respond commensurately. A leader’s honest communication is rewarded with attention and allegiance.
Employees crave more than basic information; they want to feel valued enough to receive it.
Practice considerate communication by attempting to understand others’ perspectives. Use honoring and appreciative language, and avoid accusatory or resentful approaches. Strive for face-to-face communication that builds relationships.
Active listening is a vital communication skill. Ask questions and repeat back what you’ve heard for confirmation. Leaders who show transparency by admitting they may not initially grasp something gain trust and make greater relational progress.
Good communicators also want to confirm their audience understands the information they’re given. Ask open-ended questions to ensure you’ve succeeded, Booher suggests. Ask listeners for specific feedback: what they think about your information or the chance to voice alternative ideas.
Tell stories to communicate ideas and connect with people. Perhaps the best way to personalize your connections and enhance your communications is to be thankful for people’s attention—or as Booher puts it, give people kudos whenever possible. Thank them out of habit, and show them how much you value communicating with them.
Communicating by Adding Value
While content is certainly important, the manner in which you convey it is equally critical. Demonstrate that you value your people by communicating with appropriate timing. Always account for your audience’s perspective; they should sense that you’re fair and considerate.
Never overlook an opportunity to learn what people think or how they feel. People feel valued and appreciated when they’re encouraged to share their personal positions on issues. Inclusive discussions help people rethink their views and forge deeper understandings.
Ask open-ended questions that call for thoughtful responses—a technique that builds trust and sets the stage for clarifying expectations, delineating action items and achieving goals. Measure communication success by examining whether follow-up activities match fair and reasonable expectations. Achieved goals give people a greater sense of ownership, purpose and value, which positively impacts your culture.
Your degree of positivity is perhaps the most vital value-adding aspect of communication. As you look for ways to inspire your people, remember that encouragement is a great motivator, and positivity is contagious.
Dr. Maynard Brusman
Consulting Psychologist & Executive Coach
Trusted Leadership Advisor
Professional Certified Coach (PCC), International Coach Federation
Board Certified Coach (BCC)
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Tags: communication skills, emotional intelligence, executive coaching, leadership development, mindful leadership